Mon Petit Pithon

Olivier Pithon is one of the winemakers I met while I was in Languedoc-Roussillon. I specifically sought him out not only because I enjoyed one of his wines at a restaurant in Los Angeles called Lou on Vine, but also because he is one of the wave of new French winemakers who are revitalizing the industry in the south of France, and has converted most of his land to biodynamic agriculture, which is a pet interest of mine.

Olivier lives and farms in the fly-speck village of Calce in the Cotes du Roussillon, where he settled just down the road from his mentor, Gerard Gauby, who was one of the first winemakers in the area to start farming first organically, then biodynamically. Like Gauby, Olivier Pithon produces wines that favor a light acidity and a fresh balance instead of a high alcohol content, which is the direction most of the industry is trending. However, I have a feeling that when the wine-drinking public starts coming to its senses, it will be wines like Olivier's that they will start looking for. Not only that, but Americans are starting to become more familiar with wines from this part of France, and they are liking what they drink. That's thanks in no small part to the cheaper price tag on many fine bottles compared to other French wines, and the newness of certain varietals like grenache blanc, mourvedre, and carignan...which is ironic because the best carignan vines can grow to be quite old.

What is exciting about Languedoc-Roussillon is that the wine industry is experiencing a huge renaissance at the moment. Formerly, the region was known for producing tons of cheap table wine swill that no respectable drinker would order. Now, however, a generation of young winemakers, both natives of the region, and transplants from beyond (Olivier Pithon, for instance, is from the Loire Valley originally where his brother, Jo, is a famous winemaker) are transforming old, mistreated vineyards into vigorous, productive plots that are turning out some phenomenal wines. They are also able to do this without some of the stringent AOC controls that govern France's other wine regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy, where so much of the process is regimented out of the winemakers' control. All in all, it is an exciting time down in this little corner of France.

Olivier invited me into his cellar (and home) for a casual tasting and a discussion of his winemaking process, his goals for the future, and what makes a great glass of wine. He was also a good sport and let me make a video interview with him, so please enjoy, and next time you're at the wine store, look out for some great wines from this region.

Oh, and just one more note before the video. In case Olivier doesn't endear himself to you on it, just keep in mind that he has named three of his wines after his dog, his pet cow, and his horse. If that doesn't win you over, you don't have a heart!

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